Environmental Protection Agency's Water Pollution Control Construction Grants Program

Gao ID: 115486 June 10, 1981

Over the past several years, GAO has presented in its reports issues and concerns regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Construction Grants Program. This multi-billion dollar program is one of the largest public works program in the history of the nation. It has been particularly successful in the control of industrial water pollution. Heavily polluted rivers are being cleaned up, and sport fish are returning to many rivers from which they disappeared long ago. Despite these successes, many problem areas have persisted. Secondary treatment is not always needed. Advanced waste treatment facilities, the most expensive type of pollution control, frequently are not well justified and may not substantially improve water quality. Thus, the benefits derived from the funds invested in such facilities are often seriously questioned. Comprehensive planning has not been accomplished. Nonpoint sources of pollution, such as runoff from agriculture and forest lands, are often more of a problem than pollution from industrial or municipal point sources. Less costly alternatives are not always used. Low-income families in small communities are finding it very difficult to pay user charges and hookup and connection fees arising from expensive treatment plants. Continuing operation and maintenance problems have significantly decreased the effectiveness of completed plants. Existing water quality monitoring systems do not provide the type and quality of data needed to assess conditions and the effectiveness of clean up efforts. Each of these areas needs the close attention of EPA. The question of accountability and responsibility for treatment plants involves complex charges, countercharges, and innuendos by the various parties involved in plant construction. Even when the potential exists to resolve the accountability/responsibility issue legally, EPA has not encouraged grantees to take action or become legally involved. Thus, federal, state, and local governments spend millions to fix the same treatment plants for which they originally spent millions to construct. Clear lines of accountability must be established in contracts, and changes and modifications to systems during any phase must be clearly documented.

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